A simple framework for assessing the trade-off between the climate impact of aviation carbon dioxide emissions and contrails for a single flight
Irvine, E.A., Hoskins, B.J. and Shine, K.P. (2014) A simple framework for assessing the trade-off between the climate impact of aviation carbon dioxide emissions and contrails for a single flight. Environmental Research Letters, 9 (6). 064021. ISSN 1748-9326
To link to this article DOI: 10.1088/1748-9326/9/6/064021
Persistent contrails are an important climate impact of aviation which could potentially be reduced by re-routing aircraft to avoid contrailing; however this generally increases both the flight length and its corresponding CO emissions. Here, we provide a simple framework to assess the trade-off between the climate impact of CO emissions and contrails for a single flight, in terms of the absolute global warming potential and absolute global temperature potential metrics for time horizons of 20, 50 and 100 years. We use the framework to illustrate the maximum extra distance (with no altitude changes) that can be added to a flight and still reduce its overall climate impact. Small aircraft can fly up to four times further to avoid contrailing than large aircraft. The results have a strong dependence on the applied metric and time horizon. Applying a conservative estimate of the uncertainty in the contrail radiative forcing and climate efficacy leads to a factor of 20 difference in the maximum extra distance that could be flown to avoid a contrail. The impact of re-routing on other climatically-important aviation emissions could also be considered in this framework.